14 November, 2016

Black History Month, from a personal perspective

Black History Month (BHM) recognises, rewards and celebrates the contribution that members of the African and Caribbean communities have made to British society over the years. With a range of activities and events that increases year on year, BHM is also an opportunity for everyone to find out more about the history and heritage of the communities.

M&S celebrated BHM with an Inspiring Speaker Event, which welcomed Patrick Vernon. Patrick was Independent Chair of Westminster Partnership for Racial Equality, which played a key role in forging stronger links between the Metropolitan Police and the Muslim community in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings. His invigorating and thought-provoking speech sparked some lively conversations among the audience.

That audience included Fiona, our Islington Store Manager who climbed the ranks at M&S after joining us as a Christmas temp back in 1994. Fiona was delighted that M&S gave the green light to the idea to celebrate BHM.

“I believe BHM is important because every race is connected to the history of this nation and by celebrating BHM everyone can be included in a tradition of acknowledgement, inclusion and community engagement” she says. “It gives us an opportunity to learn about the many contributions and accomplishments we have made, but also helps to correct any misunderstandings or misrepresentations of our cultures.”

Fiona believes that BHM opens up dialogue and personal interactions between many different cultures. In turn, these lead to a better understanding and appreciation of all our daily experiences.

“BHM is an ideal time for us all to come together and celebrate what can be if we, as a society, are open and willing to embrace the past, just as we embrace the future,” she adds.

Our support for BHM dovetails with a number of other initiatives we have taken to make M&S a more diverse and inclusive place in which to work and shop. We set up a ‘Race at M&S’ network group, which provides members of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community with the opportunity to share their thoughts on inclusivity at M&S in a ‘safe’ environment. We’re also proud to take part in the Pride parade in London and our involvement was the impetus for a new network, LGBT+ @M&S.

Most recently, we launched our #daretobeyourself’ campaign. The underlying message of the campaign is that individuality is at the heart of M&S; whoever you are, whatever your background, whatever your family situation, you can get on at M&S.  Fiona holds down a responsible job while being a mum. “Don’t let being a parent stop you achieving your goals. I certainly didn’t!” she says with spirit.

And what of the future? “I’d like to see M&S continue to support BHM in different ways, with different events,” Fiona says. “We should always promote open, honest and positive dialogue with all employee groups about BAME topics. And we should build an even deeper understanding of BAME employee experiences so that we can become even more inclusive.”

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